DR JOHN In The Right Place (Atco)
This is Mac Rebennack's sixth album under the Dr John moniker, originally released in 1973, and finds him approximately half way between the rough and ready voodoo gumbo of "Gris Gris" and the AOR muso snooze of last year's unspectacular "Anutha Zone". There's fine and funky backup from the legendary Meters, Allen Toussaint lends a helping hand or two on piano, guitar, percussion, backing vocals, conducting and arrangements, and it boasts two of the Doctor's most famous compositions in "Right Place Wrong Time" and "Such A Night". Should be great, then, but for me it doesn't really make it compared to the dead-cert classic "Gris Gris". Maybe I need more from a record than just the sense that the people involved in it were having a whale of a party, or perhaps it's something of a let-down to discover that (as evidenced to an even greater degree by "Anutha Zone") Mac Rebennack is possibly of this world after all, rather than another space and time entirely. Fun, funky and frivolous, surely, but too bound up in the conventions of normality to be genuinely affecting.
DR JOHN Anutha Zone (Parlophone)
Possibly more famous now than at any point during his forty year career, Mac Rebennack spent his latest allotted fifteen minutes in the company of acolytes such as Paul Weller, Spiritualized, two-thirds of Supergrass and members of Portishead and The Beta Band, making an album of heavily-sedated dinner-party friendly gumbo under the production eye of old lag John Leckie. Bestest bits are the brief instrumental piano opener "Zonata" and the John Martyn cover "I Dont Wanna Know", the rest just sorta slides past. If you know nothing of his music, locate the bubbling psychedelic cauldron of "Gris-Gris" instead, which will tell you more about The Night Tripper than this pleasant but ultimately inconsequential album ever could.
DR. JOHN, THE NIGHT TRIPPER Gris-Gris (Atco)
Billed on the label as Dr. John, The Night Stripper, perhaps referring to a kind of New Orleans entertainment that doesn’t translate quite so well to record, rarely has an artist presented an alter ego so fully and completely first time out. Even Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart and Alice Cooper arguably took a few albums to realise their own potential, but Mac Rebennack is Dr. John from the opening line of the album, in which he asserts “They call me Dr. John, the night tripper” with an authority that brooks no argument. The spacey, psychedelic production certainly adds to the weirdness, but the root and branch of it is the Doctor himself, laying a particularly heavy prescription on the listener. “Danse Kalinda Ba Doom” is like some kinda feverish voodoo incantation, and the madcap harpsichord hubbub of “Croker Courtbullion” sounds like a ritual being re-enacted with its bird calls and animal noises. The sashaying “Mama Roux” and “Jump Sturdy” are more like songs in the conventional sense, and the album climaxes with Rebennack’s signature tune, “I Walk On Guilded Splinters”. (Really, he should have stuck pins in a Paul Weller doll for what the Modfather did to that song.)
The current vinyl pressing of “Gris-Gris” is a Scorpio, and consequently sounds rough as old boots, as the products of that mysterious concern tend to. It’s free from their usual egregious pressing defects, though, and it doesn’t not suit the music; the sensation it produces of having your eardrums stroked by razorblades only adds to the album’s sense of danger.